Transferrable skills: From Lesotho to Georgetown business school
The Peace Corps is tough.
When you arrive in your host country, you don’t speak the language (in my case, Sesotho). You have to interact under high stress in a foreign culture with people or tribes whom you never knew existed (the Basotho people). And their expectations of you are extremely high (this was in part thanks to the lovely Volunteer who was at my site two years before me).
I had to create projects from the ground up through realizing what the community needed, what they were lacking and how my skills would be able to help them fix the problem. Additionally, I had a challenge of even convincing them that the problems I had identified were problems in the first place. And that those “problems” needing fixing, by me, the American. I had to juggle doing what I thought to be right, what I knew to be right and what would be appropriate with this culture.
It meant that I could not work alone. No matter how much I wanted to work alone, in the end, I had to build a team of locals and fellow Volunteers to get my project off the ground. I had to beg loved ones for seed money and petition organizations to contribute resources.
With the final success came many failures that preceded it, each one a discouraging setback. But the Peace Corps experience made me gritty. It raised the bar I had set for myself and for the things I want to accomplish.
The application process to business school
Applying to the Peace Corps and to business school is challenging! Both processes require essays and interviews, but business school seemed to be looking for a heart that was much more difficult to define. While the ideals of “making the world a better place” or “being a catalyst in the life of a child in a developing nation” are easily articulated, answering the “why business school?” question is much harder. Given that alternatives exist both for the Peace Corps and business school, understanding why either is relevant to you is an arduous task. But in my opinion, business school offers a unique credential that can’t necessarily be duplicated.
I was constantly asked, “Why not continue working? Why not start your own business now?” People even asked me, “Why don’t you do the Peace Corps again?” These are challenges that make it much more difficult to find the “why” in business school.
When I first started the application process, I had a hard time deciding why business school was right for me, but when I joined the Peace Corps, it was much clearer. I didn’t necessarily want to change the world. When I applied to the Peace Corps, I wanted the opportunity to grow personally and expand my horizons while at the same time offering my skills and dedication to a community that often went unheard. I wanted to help develop a community that, because of a lack of resources, struggled to do so on its own. These points were hard to refute.
But with business school, many people find the alternatives equally qualifying. I chose to come to business school, particularly the McDonough School of Business, because I wanted to refine my skills in unfamiliar professional areas, build a global network, continue my commitment to community service and ultimately take my career in a direction that it has become clear would require an MBA.
My MBA experience so far
I have thought of making friends in business school to be a lot like making friends in the Peace Corps. You’re a group of strangers coming from a world of different backgrounds, but you’ve been brought together by the same common struggle. Not only that, but the territory is unfamiliar to everyone.
In the Peace Corps when you’re first thrown into a foreign country with other Volunteers, you have to navigate your way around the landscape and still manage to make genuine connections with others. Just like in business school when you think of your classmates as your future network, you have to look at your fellow Volunteers as your future partners on projects. Having the experience of scouting who would be right for a project in the village is just as difficult as deciding who will be able to help me put together the perfect startup proposal!
Business school is tough. When you arrive on campus, you don’t speak the language (in my case, finance). You have to interact in a high-stress environment in a new area with people from professional backgrounds that you never even knew existed, and from countries where you’ve never been. And the expectations of you are extremely high. You have to complete projects from scratch, identify issues and come up with creative and effective ways to fix them. Sound familiar?
The business school experience has made me even more gritty, and because of both my Peace Corps experience and my time so far at the McDonough School of Business, my personal bar is even higher.
This post first appeared on the McDonough School of Business MBA Admissions blog.